By Steve Frothingham
David Zabriskie (Garmin-Slipstream) won the 2009 Tour of Missouri on Sunday as Canadian Martin Gilbert (Planet Energy) sprinted to victory in the final stage, a hilly 72.3-mile circuit race in Kansas City.
It was the first stage race title in Zabriskie’s nine years as a pro. And it didn’t come easily for him or his team. Garmin was already a man down (due to Christian Vande Velde’s broken hand from a stage 1 crash) when Zabriskie donned the yellow jersey after the stage 5 time trial.
Matches are made to be burned, and the team proceeded to use up its riders as the week proceeded. Will Frischkorn sacrificed himself on the rollers in Saturday’s stage, finally popping and cruising in 10 minutes behind the field that day.
On Sunday, a fried Frischkorn lasted just one 10.2-mile lap of the circuit before dropping out. Before the end, Garmin burnt three more matches as Mike Friedman and Jason Donald dropped out with a lap to go and Steven Cozza fell out of the lead pack on the final lap.
Zabriskie finished with just two teammates, Danny Pate and Timothy Duggan.
“The last two days is why you call it a team sport,” a grateful Zabriskie said.
How it shook out
Zabriskie’s jersey wasn’t the only honor up for grabs in the final stage. Team Type 1’s Moises Aldape had held the KOM lead all week, but his position was far from secure: he carried a 13-point lead over Saxo Bank’s Chris Anker Sorensen, but the final stage awarded a maximum of 24 points.
Another honor up for grabs was third place overall. Bissell’s Tom Zirbel held the spot by just a fraction of a second ahead of Marco Pinotti, he of the mighty Columbia-HTC team. Two intermediate sprints each awarded three time bonuses; if Pinotti got just one, he would stand on the third spot on the final podium.
These two battles dominated the early and middle parts of the race, before the race for the stage win began in the third act.
Act 1: Columbia-HTC delivers Pinotti
Columbia-HTC took the pace-setting burden off of Garmin in the first lap, as the white-and-yellow squad reeled in an early break by Astana’s Yaroslav Popovych and wound up the pace toward the downhill sprint line at mile 9.2, in sight of the start/finish line on Kansas City’s Grand Boulevard.
“Those guys did what they do best,” said Bissell’s Ben Jacques-Maynes, who tried in vain to keep Pinotti — not known for his sprint — from grabbing a bonus. “They wound it up to 65-70 kph and there was nothing we could do, they had it so strung out.”
George Hincapie delivered Pinotti to the line and took the second-place points. Jacques-Maynes came through third.
“I guess it felt kind of good that it took the whole Columbia team to take something away from Team Bissell,” Jacques-Maynes said wryly.
A small break was away for the next sprint, and Bissell was unable to close it down in time for Zirbel to try to take the time back. “From there we just had to deliver Tom to the line safely,” Jacques-Maynes said.
Act 2: Team Type 1 protects Aldape’s KOM
The seven-lap race contained two KOM laps, with points awarded to five places at two summits on the third and sixth laps. Aldape calculated that if he and his team could keep Sorensen out of the points on the first KOM lap (the race’s third lap), the Mexican would own the KOM jersey for good.
So on the second lap, Team Type 1’s Darren Lill bridged to a break containing Saxo’s Lars Bak and BMC’s Mathias Frank. Bak and Mathias took the first two KOM positions, Lill got the third, and back in the field Aldape grabbed the fourth and Team Type 1’s Matt Wilson snagged fifth.
So far, so good, for Aldape.
But then the three-man break gave up the ghost and the pack steamed toward the second KOM summit. This time Aldape snagged first place and Lill took second, but Sorensen got third. The Dane was on the board, and Aldape knew he couldn’t call the jersey his for a few more laps at least.
By lap 6 the day’s most promising break had formed, and it included Chris Anker Sorensen and two Saxo mates: Nicki Sorensen and Jason McCartney. Team Type 1’s Chris Jones was there, too, along with Astana’s Gregory Rast. Sorensen would have to win both forthcoming KOMs to snag the jersey, but with the Saxo horsepower, that didn’t seem unlikely.
However, on the penultimate KOM summit, Jones pulled off a surprise, sneaking past both Sorensens and McCartney to grab first place. Chris Anker Sorensen got second, but the game was over: Jones had secured Aldape’s KOM lead.
The final act. Columbia goes ballistic
Columbia-HTC finished off its first chore handily, putting Pinotti on the podium. With a run at Zabriskie’s lead unrealistic, the team next set its sights on the stage win.
First, the team sent Michael Barry up to the five-man break with the Saxo riders, Jones and Rast. Soon after arriving at the party, Barry broke it up, charging off the front coming into the bell lap, thrilling the large crowds in downtown Kansas City.
The break disintegrated — only McCartney could stay with Barry as Garmin and Cervélo led the chase.
Jelly Belly’s Will Routley bridged, but the pressure from behind was too great, and the three were brought back in time for Hincapie to launch a counter-attack, which set off a roar from the start-finish crowd watching on a jumbo screen.
The national champ got precisely nowhere, tried and failed once more, and with 6km to go it was all together. The field was in one long line, which Columbia’s Michael Rogers screamed out of. The big Aussi blew past Garmin’s Pate and took a ten-second gap, motoring flat out.
The chase seemed to fall apart and Rogers’ lead grew to 15 seconds before Kelly Benefit Strategies organized at the front to set up its sprinters. Cervélo joined in the chase and then Tim Johnson, in his last race in OUCH-Maxxis colors, bridged with Addy Engels (Quick Step) tacked onto his wheel. Engels punched it and slipped past both of them — but Rogers would not surrender and clawed his way back to Engels.
No matter. The bunch swarmed the three of them. The field spread left and right, Cervélo’s Jeremy Hunt, in the red Most Aggressive Rider jersey he earned Saturday, took the front, and Thor Hushovd (Cervélo) launched off him, straight up the middle. But the big Norwegian was swarmed on both sides — he sat down and softpedaled about three bike lengths before the line as Martin Gilbert (Planet Energy) threw his bike to take the victory ahead of a charging Andrew Pinfold (OUCH-Maxxis). Hushovd was third.
Planet Energy, directed by Canadian cycling legend Steve Bauer, was the final team invited to this year’s Tour of Missouri. The team has appeared solid all week, but had yet to get on the podium.
“We made mistakes all week. Today we didn’t make any mistakes,” Gilbert said, as his young team celebrated around him. “We knew we could do it, we’ve been close all week.”
• Hushovd easily retained the green jersey as two of the Tour of Missouri’s other dominant sprinters, J.J. Haedo (Saxo Bank) and Mark Cavendish (Columbia), dropped out before the finish. Gilbert, in testament to his quiet persistence all week, wound up second.
• Quick Step’s Dario Cataldo won the best young rider award and was fifth overall.
• Saxo Bank won the team GC. The team’s Jens Voigt, coming back from his terrible Tour de France crash, said he’s fully over his injuries, but lacking race form. “I’m actually quite happy with how I did here,” Voigt told VeloNews. At a post-race news conference he had reporters roaring with laughter with his questions about how often Missouri’s many small towns updated the population figures on their road signs.